A New Attitude in Medical Care?

Marie Romagnano, RN, stood before a conference hall filled with 200 medical professionals on Wednesday afternoon and asked for a show of hands for how many have read the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

Nearly everyone raised a hand. That is to say, a room full of well-educated, modern-minded doctors, nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists have read a book written by a poorly educated Polish nun in the 1930s - a book that chronicles her revelations with Jesus Christ, The Divine Mercy, and her mission to share His mercy with the world.

What's going on here? The message of Divine Mercy - that our Lord loves us and wants us to call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others - is making major inroads in the mainstream medical community.

That was abundantly clear May 1-2, at the 3rd Annual Nurses and Doctors for Divine Mercy Conference at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., a two-day event sponsored by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and Nurses and Doctors for Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marians.

Among other things, the conference served as a reminder to the medical community that humans are God's greatest masterpiece, and they deserve not only the best medical care, but the best spiritual care, as well. As such, it's OK to wear a pin on your lapel with the image of Jesus. It's OK to pray for - and with - your patients. And, indeed, you should be doing these things.

"Total patient care," is how Marie describes it. Marie, from Charlton, Mass., founded Nurses for Divine Mercy (and later added Doctors to the group) in 2001. Her book, Nursing with the Hands of Jesus: A Guide to Nurses for Divine Mercy, written with Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, and Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, is an 88-page call to action.

"As a Nurse for Divine Mercy," says Marie, who received her spiritual training from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, "you are always aware that you are the spiritual link to Christ, you are His merciful presence at the bedside of the patient. By prayer and by using our hands and our hearts, the nurses and doctors can bring God's grace of healing and consolation to their patients."

More than 3,000 medical professionals worldwide have joined Nurses and Doctors for Divine Mercy. That includes Lisa Parkhill, RN, from New Jersey.

"In training, they always talk of 'holistic' care," said Lisa on Wednesday. "Incorporating spiritual care with medical care, to me, is real holistic care - that is, caring for the whole person."

Dr. Helen Jackson, the director of the St. Luke's Guild, the Catholic physicians guild in Boston, spoke at the conference. She explained in an interview after her talk how she is guided by her trust in God. "And I encourage my patients to trust in Him as well." She keeps a Divine Mercy pin on her lapel and religious images on display in her office, she says, "so that patients know there's Someone guiding me."

Through the message of Divine Mercy, said Fr. Kaz, "we have an amazing opportunity to help the world embrace a medical care plan that strikes a balance between faith and high-tech interventions - that focuses respectfully again not only on the here and now but on all eternity."

'Keep God at the Center'
The conference was also a reminder that, in a world wrangling with the moral and ethical implications of breakneck advances in medicine, we consign God to the periphery at our own peril. The theme for this year's conference was "Medicine, Bioethics and Spirituality."

"We can't assume that what is technologically possible is morally right," warned Fr. Germain Kopaczynski, OFM, bioethicist and former director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, Mass., during his talk on Wednesday.

He raised such specters as in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, cloning, and abortion, and how technology allows us now to turn the "unthinkable into the routinely doable." Technology has to be mastered, he said. "It shouldn't master us."

He also warned that we must pay careful attention to the de-humanizing words and terms that have crept into the medical lexicon. For instance, today an "unborn child" is labeled a "product of conception." The term "selective reduction" is used to describe a procedure in which one of the twins in a woman's womb is killed. "But you don't call it 'killing,'" said Fr. Germaine said, dryly. "You don't call it 'murder.' You call it 'selective reduction.' It's antiseptic, and it let's us get away with murder."

He added, "If I were to say, 'Let me do human cloning,' the American public would rise up and say, 'Oh no, that's not such a good idea.' ... OK, so we're not going to do human cloning; we're going to do 'somatic style nuclear transfer.' That's fine, as long as you don't call it 'human cloning.' But it is human cloning. We confuse the public with scientific words, and that's how we're edging toward human cloning."

Father Germain quoted the 19th century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, who once wrote, "If there is no God, all things are permitted."

"Keep God at the center of medical care," Fr. Germain told the audience, and then he paraphrased from Romans 14, and said: "God is Lord of life and death - not the human."

Pastoral Care
Indeed, the Nurses and Doctors for Divine Mercy advocate placing God at the center of their day-to-day medical tasks. That's what Marie, herself, chose to do back in 1997 with a client that changed her life.

His name is Mark Tuttle, and there is no medical reason to explain why he is still alive today - other than through the power of prayer. Mark, who spoke at the conference on Tuesday with his wife Gloria, spoke of how he was driving a tractor in a remote section of his family's orchard in Warren, Mass., in June 1997, when the tractor tipped. His entire body, especially his upper left chest and lower left leg, were crushed under the weight. He was pinned there for more than four hours until his father finally found him.

By the time he woke up a couple weeks later, doctors had amputated his left leg up to the hip. His pelvis was shattered. His upper left chest would require numerous plastic surgeries. He had numerous internal injuries. So perilous was his condition, on many occasions a priest was called to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

Marie was hired as his nurse case manager. During the next five months, she turned to the message and devotion of Divine Mercy. She shared the devotion with Mark's family. Together, they formed a network of people to pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for Mark and to pray hours of adoration.

"That gave us the confidence we needed to pray and to surrender to the Lord," said Gloria.

Doctors expected a total breakdown of Mark's bodily functions. They also anticipated a nervous breakdown. Neither happened. Five months after the accident, Mark returned home. He's confined to a wheelchair. He continues to work on the family farm, but he's a changed man. "I've rearranged my life so that the only things that are important are my family, my friends, and my faith," he said.

Image and Chaplet
The image of The Divine Mercy and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy both play key roles in the pastoral care advocated by Nurses and Doctors for Divine Mercy. Fathers Seraphim and Kaz both spoke at the conference about these important elements of the Divine Mercy devotion.

Father Seraphim, who served as vice-postulator in North America for the canonization cause of St. Faustina, noted the promises Jesus attached to the recitation of the Chaplet. In the Diary, Jesus says:


• Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death (687).
• When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Savior (1541).
• Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this Chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy (687).
• I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy (687).
• Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will.(1731)

"When we pray the Chaplet for the sick and dying," said Fr. Seraphim, "we know the Lord is fulfilling His promise of being there near them, not as a just judge, but as the Merciful Savior, which they need at that point. ... If we are united with the Lord in His grace, and if we exercise this power, the Lord fulfills it, and we can be sure of it."

Indeed, for patients or their families who are open to spiritual care, the nurses and doctors offer prayercards with the Chaplet. The prayercards also include the image of The Divine Mercy.

Father Kaz, in his talk on Wednesday, noted how powerful the image can be. It can provide a starting point for a discussion about the Lord's mercy, if the patients choose. It also provides a symbol for Christ's presence in the world, including at the bedside.

"You don't even have to say anything," Fr. Kaz said. "[By wearing the image] you immediately provide the content and context of sharing faith. ... Our Lord wants them to know that He loves them. He wants them to know that He cares for them and has not forgotten them, that they are surrounded by His presence."

It can be a challenge to bring God into the public arena, Fr. Kaz said, "which is what the Evil One wants: Out of sight, out of mind." But Fr. Kaz has noted how faith-based care draws from Western civilization's earliest medical traditions.

"Hospitals were a Christian gift to the world going back centuries," he said. "And most of the nurses were nuns. For them, providing care meant caring for the whole person - the physical person and the spiritual person."

With trust in the Merciful Lord, Nurses and Doctors for Divine Mercy is inspiring a whole new generation of medical professionals with the very same goal.

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